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Abu Hamad First to Stop River Blindness Transmission in Sudan

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CONTACT: Sudan Federal Ministry of Health, Director of Media Khalid Hamed Bakheit:khalidhb1972@hotmail.com, Cell phone: 011+249-123-262699
CARTER CENTER CONTACT: In Atlanta, Emily.Staub@emory.edu, +1-404-420-5126

(عربي)

KHARTOUM…The Sudan Federal Ministry of Health, with assistance from The Carter Center and Lions Clubs International Foundation, announced that the isolated desert area of Abu Hamad has stopped transmission of river blindness (onchocerciasis). Abu Hamad is among the first areas in Africa to demonstrate that intensified mass treatment of the drug Mectizan®, donated by Merck, can interrupt transmission of this debilitating disease.

"Sudan's achievement is the latest evidence helping overturn the long-held assumption that river blindness is too pervasive in Africa to be eliminated," said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. "The Carter Center congratulates the Sudan Ministry of Health for its vision and success in halting river blindness in Abu Hamad."

River blindness was first recognized in Abu Hamad in the late 1950s, but the disease likely has plagued people living in this area for centuries.

"Together with partners like The Carter Center, we worked with community volunteers to revitalize the control program and transform it into a strategic river blindness elimination program," said Dr. Kamal Hashim, director of the National Program for the Prevention of Blindness at Sudan Federal Ministry of Health. "I'm proud that Sudan accepted the elimination challenge in 2006, and it gives me great joy to declare that we've succeeded in interrupting transmission of this ancient scourge in Abu Hamad."

On May 3, 2012 the ministry hosted an official ceremony in Sudan's capital to recognize Abu Hamad's success, which was attended by decision makers and leaders, experts, and partners.

River blindness is a neglected disease of forgotten people. It is caused by a parasitic worm called Onchocerca volvulus that is spread through the bites of small black flies that breed in rapidly flowing waters along fertile riverbanks, such as those along the Nile. The disease is rarely fatal, but in advanced stages it causes intense itching, skin disfiguration, and diminished vision. With more than 100,000 people at risk for river blindness in Abu Hamad, the disease once had an enormous economic and social impact. It prevented victims from working, harvesting crops, earning an education, or taking care of their children.

"Overcoming river blindness in Abu Hamad is a historic achievement that all Sudanese can celebrate," said Alkhair Alnour Almubarek, Federal State Minister of Health. "I hope this success will further inspire us to do more, and encourage our African neighbors to tackle river blindness elimination."

Africa accounts for 99 percent of the world's river blindness. Located in River Nile and Northern states, Abu Hamad's remoteness made it an ideal location to further demonstrate the feasibility of river blindness elimination on the continent.

Similar to elimination activities in the Americas and neighboring Uganda, the program in Abu Hamad relied on community volunteers to share health education and distribute a single oral dose of Mecitzan every six months. The program is credited for its innovative inclusion of local women to provide Mectizan treatments to their extended families, which greatly improved the treatment coverage rates necessary to stop the disease.

"Moving from control to elimination is a crucial turning point in the fight against river blindness," said Dr. Frank O. Richards, director of the Carter Center River Blindness Program. "Once elimination becomes the goal, it is no longer business as usual. A program and its partners must ratchet up interventions, and that's exactly what Sudan did in Abu Hamad."

The government is using a staggered approach to eliminate river blindness in Sudan. Abu Hamad is the first of the country's four river blindness-endemic areas to successfully interrupt transmission. Activities have also been intensified in Al Galabat (Gedaraf State) to interrupt transmission, including health education and increased Mectizan treatments to twice per year. Currently, control activities continue in Al Radom (South Darfur state) and Khor Yabous (Southern Blue Nile state).

In keeping with World Health Organization guidelines, the ministry will conduct three years of post-treatment surveillance before complete elimination of the disease can be declared in Abu Hamad. To help ensure elimination, a sophisticated molecular diagnostic laboratory at the ministry in Khartoum is responsible for testing blood and black fly (vector) samples to detect the parasite. At the same time, health workers are raising local awareness about why Mectizan is no longer needed during this three-year period. Once health authorities are assured that the disease indeed is eliminated, resources that were once earmarked for river blindness control can be redirected to other health needs.

The strong partnerships among the people of Abu Hamad, the Sudan Federal Ministry of Health, the health ministries of River Nile and Northern states, The Carter Center, Lions Clubs International Foundation through its SightFirst Initiative, Lions Club of Khartoum, Merck and the Mectizan Donation Program, Michigan State University, the University of South Florida, the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control, and many generous inpidual donors were critical to the success being enjoyed today.

Editor's note:  Professionally shot HD footage of efforts in Abu Hamad is available upon request.

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"Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope."
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers in developing nations to increase crop production. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.

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للنشر الفوري
17 أيار، 2012

خالد حامد بخيت
: 00249 123 262699
E-mail: khalidhb1972@hotmail.com


Emily.Staub@emory.edu

Related Resources

abuhamad

Abu Hamad River Blindness Success
Watch Video

Sudan Announces River Blindness Success in Abu Hamad

Meet Dr. Nabil Aziz Mikhail, Carter Center country representative for Sudan

View Media Coverage: Carter Center River Blindness Program

State Minister of Federal Health Ministry to Declare Interruption of Transmission of River Blindness (Onchocerciasis) in Abu Hamad Focus, River Nile State (PDF)

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